In a post last week, I mentioned that I was struggling a bit with the whole class prep thing, since it's been over a year since I've been in the classroom, and how this came as a bit of a surprise to me. I guess that teaching is more of a skill than we tend to think, and like any other skill, if we don't practice it regularly, we get a bit rusty. That's what I'm facing right now.
I'm teaching two classes when I return: a section of intro and an elective. For various reasons---some externally imposed, some interally imposed---both courses are undergoing some not-trivial revisions this time around. So I'm trying to figure out how these changes fit into each course while at the same time trying to construct the flow of each course (syllabus, assignments, core concepts, objectives). And having a hard time trying to wrap my mind around it.
I was complaining about this to a friend and colleague from another department, and she gave me a great idea. "Why don't you start from the end, and work backwards?"
Well. This turned out to be brilliant advice, at least for the intro course. Once I started from the end, the course almost seemed to construct itself. Getting from Point A to Point B, it turns out, is easier if you've been to Point B and know what it looks like. And, as a bonus, I'm actually now really excited about this iteration of the course, and can't wait to introduce the series of assignments to the students.
Unfortunately, the advice is not working so well for the elective. The elective is less "linear", let's say. I have a very clear picture of where the students will end up, but because of the nature of this course, the path back from that to the beginning is not as clear. Actually, the unusual thing is that I've structured the first and last assignments already, and have some ideas for the middle assignments, but matching up the course concepts to the assignments (and some of the segues) is proving tricky. I do remember not being happy at all with the way I matched concepts to assignments the last time around (which was echoed in the student evaluations), and I want to avoid that this time around, but the way forward is not clear at this point.
(Changing the first and last assignments is not an option---I have very specific reasons for doing these two assignments when I do them and how I do them, and I think that these two assignments are the perfect bookends for this class. And the students agree with me. The issue is that the assignments don't neatly fit in with the "traditional" ways that this particular subject is taught. I have to think carefully about how I introduce the related concepts, so that the assignments don't seem so....standalone is probably the best way to describe it.)
I know that I will get unstuck eventually, but in the meantime, I continue to spin my wheels a bit. I think what I might need to do is take a step back from the details and spend some time thinking of the larger picture. Maybe that's the thing that will get me unstuck and get the course flowing again.
Where do you get stuck when you're planning your courses?